Against the backdrop of a critical six points on the table, the fitness and form of players at home and abroad at this stage of their seasons, and the historic Copa America Centenario on the horizon, MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann released his 27-man roster for the side’s upcoming pair of World Cup Qualifying matches. For the U.S. coach, there are a lot of things heading in the right direction.
“We’re excited about this roster going into Guatemala because a couple of players are back in the picture that are healthy again, like Geoff Cameron and Alejandro Bedoya, which is very, very crucial for us,” said Klinsmann. “Some players for months have been playing at a very high level, like John Brooks, for example, and Fabian Johnson and Bobby Wood scoring goals in the 2. Bundesliga in Germany. This is exciting because you want them to make a mark on their team.
“Another example in a very positive way is Omar Gonzalez with Pachuca. He’s been playing a very strong first couple of months with the new club since he went down there coming from the LA Galaxy, which is exciting. Another name to mention is Edgar Castillo being a very consistent high-level player at Monterrey, being on top of the Liga MX in Mexico. We are happy that Brad Guzan fought back into his number one spot at Aston Villa. We take it player by player and we try to make sure there’s the right mix of players in the whole roster, and we are convinced that this roster is strong enough to get the job done.”
Also in the mix is the unique situation of having the U-23 team also playing an important home-and-away playoff series against Colombia, with the final berth at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on the line. With both teams’ matches occurring on the same days, Klinsmann explained his decision to bring age-eligible U-23s John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin in with the full MNT to prepare for World Cup Qualifying games against Guatemala.
“At the end of the day, priority always is the Senior Team,” Klinsmann told ussoccer.com “Priority is World Cup Qualifying, so there are no compromises made like sending the players that are age-eligible for the Olympic team to the Olympic team already. We are convinced our Olympic team will do really well in Colombia and get a decent result there, and then we hope for big support in Dallas for the return game. We are convinced they will get the job done.”
While the MNT has done reasonably well against Guatemala over the years, the goal of gaining three points away has proved more challenging, with the team winning only one of its six World Cup Qualifying matches against los Chapines away from U.S. soil.
“Our goal definitely for the two Guatemala fixtures is six points. We badly want to get the job done before the Copa America if possible. We know it’s going to be very difficult, especially in Guatemala City, but it’s also going to be difficult in Columbus, but there we have a great crowd behind us. It will be vital how we come out right away from the first second in Guatemala City, and hopefully being able to get three points. That would make things a lot easier for the second game.”
Klinsmann has first-hand experience of the rigors of World Cup Qualifying in Guatemala. At this stage four years ago, the U.S. led 1-0 at halftime in Guatemala City, but was forced to settle for a draw when Marco Pappa’s free kick beat Tim Howard in the 81st minute. The last match of the Semifinal phase also provided a nervous moment, as a Carlos Ruiz goal gave the Guatemalans a 1-0 lead in Kansas City that if it stood would have eliminated the U.S. from qualifying for Brazil.
With the team goal of getting six points and virtually locking down a place in final round World Cup Qualifying, Klinsmann is also looking ahead to the Copa America this summer. These two games are the final proving ground for players looking to make their case.
“I think that it’s hugely important for everyone coming into these Guatemala games to understand this is the last time we meet before Copa America. This is now the time where you have to show how good you are in terms of you want to make a statement to be in the roster for Copa America. So this is big. The competition will be intense. We want them to make their marks and what better way than six points against Guatemala? This is the message to the players when they come into Miami, to show us what you have because this is about building your case for the Copa America.”